The National Grid has a Secret Life?
Well it did until Tuesday 26th October 2010 when BBC Four broadcast the first of a three-part series The Secret Life of the National Grid, which focuses on the UK’s electric power network and drives home just how completely dependent upon it we are. The next episode is on Tuesday 2nd November, BBC Four 9pm (and again on the 9th). If you missed the first episode, here are some interesting facts (produced with kind permission from the BBC):
- Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin promised a land of cheap and abundant electricity in 1926 with the Electricity Supply Act and establishment of the National Grid to connect 122 of the most efficient power stations in the country
- Prior to that, electricity was generated and supplied in Britain by disparate private companies. It was extremely expensive: keeping just five bulbs going for a day cost a week’s wages for the average person.
- In 1920, only 6% of British homes had electricity.
- The Central Electricity Board was one of the first public corporations and set about laying 4,000 miles of transmission line and cable across Britain (the equivalent distance from John O’Groats to Lands End four and a half times).
- Classical architect Sir Reginald Blomfield was brought in to design the electricity pylons and produced a concept inspired by ancient Egypt.
- By the start of World War Two, two-thirds of homes in Britain were connected to the grid.
- Initially, homes only had light switches, but by the mid 1950s, over half of consumers had sockets too.
- The biggest driver for fitting plug points in the 1950s was the electric iron.
- Electricity Boards actively promoted the use of electrical appliances, such as cookers and immersion heaters. Electricity showrooms became a feature on the high street.
- Mass manufacture transformed living standards and heralded the start of the consumer society.
- In the post war period up to the 1970s, manufacturing accounted for almost 40% of Britain’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and much of it relied on electrically-driven production lines.
- There are few parts of our lives today that are not plugged into the Grid (computers, elevators, air-conditioning, iPods, TVs).
- As Britain has become increasingly dependent on a centralised electricity system, it has made us vulnerable to whoever has the power to pull the plug. This was evidenced in the 1970s with the Electricity Supply Workers’ strike followed by the Miners’ strike, which culminated in the infamous three-day-week and Edward Heath’s election defeat in 1974.
- Today, coal (most of it imported) generates 28% of Britain’s electricity.
- Britain had the first commercial nuclear power station in the world (Calder Hall) in 1956.
- Gas now generates 45% of our power.
You can also watch the program on BBC iPlayer.